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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sharpe chooses Gautier

Yolanda Sharpe, Neighborhood, encaustic
and mixed media on double panels,
48 by 43.75 by 4 inches, 2010

this time on THE LYDIAN STONES

Yolanda Sharpe is the chooser this week on The Lydian Stones. Please fly off there and leave a comment... Yolanda is a remarkable person who is a painter and longtime head of the SUNY-Oneonta art department. She is also a notable soprano and writes poetry to boot. I somehow could not hold her to one poem...


Once upon a time I had a mustard-colored copy of Understanding Poetry. Maybe you did, too, way back when. Garrick Davis has interesting things to say about the book and its authors, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren.

(And long ago I had a class on Faulkner with Brooks... He was elderly but in possession of quite sound marbles. Our first assignment was to do a timeline for the somewhat wayward Soldier's Pay. I did a maniacal, detailed version--and learned a lot as a writer about keeping time in line and how easily it can go astray.)


This was the official call for literature teachers across to the country to drop the scholarly pretensions of their profession, and return to literature. Though it seems a modest opening paragraph for a letter now, it was heard at the time as a rallying cry by the young, and a declaration of war by the old.  John Crowe Ransom, in a review of the book, said as much: “The analyses are as much of the old poems as the new ones, and those of the old are as fresh and illuminating as those of the new; or at least, nearly. What can this mean but that criticism as it is now practiced is a new thing?”


To open its pages now and compare it to our new textbooks is to suffer vertigo—our educational system has fallen from a very high place. (What would the authors have made of colleges that don’t require English Literature majors, even, to take a course in Shakespeare?) What they never set down was a reason why college undergraduates should study poetry at all. In our own, more dissolute, day—when the humanities have fallen into disrepute—we have need of such reasons. We have need of teachers like Brooks and Warren again, who would explain to us why freshman should always be forced to climb the summits of literature together. If you think that textbooks are invariably dull affairs, you owe it to yourself to find this book.


Update: Poet Maryann Corbett wrote me that the link wasn't working for her. For some reason it takes a minute to come up. I tried linking to other pages with the same result. Just wait, and it will come up instead of just giving an about: blank message.

If you are interested in formal poetry: I am dipping into Amanda French's online dissertation, Refrain Again: The Return of the Villanelle. And I am finding it enlightening.  Thank you, Amanda! Here's a snip:

It is in fact the case that the vast majority of poetry scholars know only as much about the villanelle as is to be found in handbooks such as Adams’s Poetic Designs–and the handbooks are all wrong.
Handbooks and anthologies and scholarly surveys–reference texts of any kind–that mention the villanelle almost unanimously assert or strongly imply that the villanelle has nineteen lines and an alternating refrain on the scheme A’bA” abA’ abA” abA’ abA” abA’A”, and that this scheme was fixed centuries ago in France through then-common practice, though it is now a rarity. Here is a sobering truth: only a single poet of the Renaissance wrote a villanelle by that definition, and he wrote only one. Jean Passerat’s “Villanelle,” also called “J’ay perdu ma tourterelle” (probably written in 1574), has come to represent a nonexistent tradition of which it is the sole example.

Clive takes a poll: The Foliate Head


Interested in how the numbers are falling? If you want to see how people have liked the images that Clive Hicks-Jenkins has made for The Foliate Head, fly here. Feel free to lodge an opinion! Comments off here--please comment there to keep things easy...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Clive grows leafy!

Green men can be dangerous. Once they open their mouths and the leaves erupt, watch out!

While sketching and painting and fooling with green man images for the cover of my upcoming book of poetry, The Foliate Head,  the painter Clive Hicks-Jenkins was overcome by the green spirit and cannot stop tossing off magical images... He appears to be inhabited by greenishness and can't stop.

He has gotten many interesting comments at the Artlog (as I have, too, here and on facebook and via email--thanks to those of you who sounded off!), and if you want to join in and give an opinion of the cover images, they are now in two spots. Six finalists were collected here: A further cover image went up today:, and he has started posting interior images. If you look at those two posts, you may refer to an image by the number under each.

If you commented somewhere before, feel free to comment again now that we have more... And if you have not commented, feel free to join in!

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Slide down two posts and take a look at the links to the now-five posts of work by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. We'll be deciding on a cover image right away, so feel free to lodge an opinion!

Curmudgeon genius--

Do not miss! Sendak and Colbert part one and part two. Let the wild rumpus start!

Update: brilliant little video sent to me on facebook by the inimitable Gary Dietz: The Joy of Books.  "After organizing our bookshelf almost a year ago (, my wife and I (Sean Ohlenkamp) decided to take it to the next level. We spent many sleepless nights moving, stacking, and animating books at Type bookstore in Toronto."

Also, I'm still having a bit of difficulty with the next post on "The Lydian Stones," so it will probably go up tomorrow rather than today. It's more complicated than most.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Clive and the foliate head!

FINAL UPDATE (I think!):  Clive has gathered together the cover finalists.
"marly's book and henry's window"

* * *

Note for people interested in how the pictures go with the text:
John Coulthart (who definitely ought to have a cover opinion!) mentioned not knowing the text as an issue. If anybody wants a peek / preview, the easiest way is to go to “Mezzo Cammin,” where I have evidently published more poems than any other contributor (because I like the publication and the editor.)
Here are some links to some poems in the book from that site: This one includes the poem called “The Foliate Head.” The second poem is also in the book. The first, second, and fifth poems are in the book and, I think, all in the foliate portion. The second poem is dedicated to Clive because he once played Puck (of course!) It won’t be listed that way in the book because the book itself is dedicated to him. (This is a very Clivean project, so I think it the right one to have his name on the dedication page…) All of these are in the book, though not in the foliate section. But they are quite harmonious with the greener poems.

UPDATE:  A new link has been added to the list! See below.
MORE UPDATERY:  A fifth link! Got an opinion? Voice it!

Want to see the cover work in progress for The Foliate Head, my poetry book coming out from Stanza Press (UK)? Clive Hicks-Jenkins is working on the cover, and you may look at preliminary drawings here and here. Let me know what you like best!

"marly youmans and the foliate head"
A wealth of initial ideas.

"marly youmans and the foliate head: part 2"
More leafy green man heads, including a tattooed head!

"marly youmans and the foliate head: part 3"

"marly and the foliate head: part 4"

"marly and the foliate head: part 5:
Three new heads, in color: Clive says he will repost tomorrow, as these were taken with electric light and have a bit of reflection and perhaps inaccuracy of color. But I think you can see them pretty well!

I had a great time rummaging through books on green men while I was staying in Wales, so this feels like a coming-full-circle moment. Clive is doing cover and division pages, and Andrew Wakelin is grand ruler of design. No doubt Peter Wakelin will be unable to restrain himself from an opinion or two as well. Fun! I just wish I could sit down with them all in person once again, under the shadow of the hedge by Ty Isaf...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Lydian Stones: Sharpe chooses Gautier

There will be a slight delay on The Lydian Stones for today--I just realized that I have an incomplete translation and need to catch the author of this week's piece before I post... It is by painter and singer Yolanda Sharpe, who was head of the art department at SUNY-Oneonta for twelve years (what a saint!) Watch this space for a link...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Goldsworthy Redux

I woke up to brighter light—new snow—and thought about Andy Goldsworthy. I’m still wondering if those three stacked stones in the edge of the lake were his, a sort of private conversation with Otsego Lake and Kingfisher Tower, back when he was doing a project near Albany…  Perhaps it was simply homage to him, he being so near at the time.  He’s such an oddly Old Testament sort of figure, setting up cairns and stacked stone markers where he has had an encounter with the otherworldly this-worldly.  I am very glad he does it, though I am also glad that I make my cairns out of words.

My idea of Andy Goldsworthy is very appealing, the thought that he gets up early and works in the cold (being a Southerner, I do not want to go and do likewise!) in order to search for some kind of “rightness” and to make something that appears effortless.  It is a right goal of all art, to labor in order to create what seems tossed-off, effortless, or as natural as a leaf spiring from the darkness of earth.

Another thing I like about Goldsworthy is that he is not afraid to be silly and play, and that for him the whole world becomes the realm of art. For him, the landscape is always on the verge of revelation—it reveals itself in speaking water, stone, air, and fire. (Fire often appears when ice or particles or fur catch light, but it can also appear in transformed vegetable matter, as when a disk of earth-blackened leaves inside a sort of tequila sunrise of yellow-orange-red leaves shows that energy burned in a place as a bonfire does in a ring of stones.)

A great wheel of upbuilding and raveling never stops, and at its dark center one verges onto another world. It’s rather like the biblical injunction to “pray without ceasing”—that is, to make one’s entire life lit with the radiance of knowing God, knowing a greater life and being more alive. Art is always calling us to a larger life, to other worlds…

A large part of Andy Goldsworthy's art is to make one see this world with infant sight. That means that when, say, a great cairn of bleached driftwood (black-hearted, topped by a disk of darkness and absence) unwinds and floats apart as the sea comes in, we will see it drawn away as if into another plane, another reality—the work being a sort of nest of time raveled and invaded by eternity, a new sort of making rather than simple unmaking. The marriage of the dark center with the earthly driftwood limbs is seemingly dissolved yet encompasses more as it disintegrates, widening to hold the sea and vanishing as if into another realm—the sea accepts its gift.

So incense went up from sacrifice, sending up a wavering ladder of fragrance between one world and another.  Likewise Goldsworthy’s great upright circles of polar ice blocks or stone work work rather in the way pierced stone was said to allow fairy sight, transforming the eye and showing a new world, there all the time but unseen.   

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Farmer chooses Reece

The weekly post is up at The Lydian Stones! Jonathan Farmer, mover and shaker of things literary in the Triangle area of North Carolina, chooses Spencer Reece.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What would happen? Quote of the Day.

Morning Light Cruise Ship
Courtesy of and Christopher Glase
of Aberdeen, Maryland, US.
Discussing the state of civilization over a leisurely breakfast--particularly children, pregnant women, and the elderly on the Costa Concordia, cracks on the People of Walmart website, the latest romance from the Occupy movement--a teen and a level 3 sex offender--sweet redemption no doubt found...

"What would happen if a Walmart tipped over and sank?"  --M. T. M.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Waving not drowning

I've been busy with distant 12-hour wrestling meets and a near-disaster with freezing pipes, but will be around tomorrow with a new The Lydian Stones post! Also, for any Virginians who did not already see this on facebook--I'll be speaking to MALIA in Roanoke on April 20th. Open to the public. More on that later.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

9 poems in "Mezzo Cammin"

Nine bites from the nine poems up at the brand new issue of Mezzo Cammin, edited by poet Kim Bridgford: lots of good company, too!  The last poem is an excerpt from Thaliad, forthcoming from Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal. The eight preceded are from the manuscript, The Book of the Red King. I'll be sending that one out by the end of the year.

The Desire for the Red King 

Certain people live among our kind,
So strange they might be gold or cinnabar,
So different from us in turn of mind.

"My Poor Fool Is Hanged"

Who knows why the pages strung him up?
For nine hours he was hung at tower-top,
Roped by a foot, one leg crossing the other,

Scholastic Interlude

The college came and begged the Fool to teach;
They gave him bags of silver and a wand
For rapping on the desks of boys and girls. 

All Hallowed Angels Say

A rondel of the Fool

All hallowed angels say, not sing
Their messages and starry praise
Because the aura of bright haze

The Fool's Confession

When the Fool confesses to the Priest,
The world reels on its axis, and a gust
Of blackened leaves and feathers tears the field

The Peacock's Tail

Three days of snow. The blackened world turns white.
The garden urns hoist up their wedding cakes.
An iron table lifts the crystal coffin where

The Fool Tells Children a Story at the Solstice

Once was a particle of dust
Named Hob; and one day a big gust

Of wind whooshed him into the air,

The Red King's Word

When your stepmother shoves you out the door
Barefoot, in a gauzy smock and cobweb cape,
Do not repine. Cry not! Draw from your heart

from Thaliad

I. Luring the Starlit Muse

Year 67 After the Fire
Emma declares what she knows about the time before the fire 

and calls on a starlit muse, the only love she will ever have, 
to tell the hero's saga of The House of Thalia and Thorn.

It was the age beyond the ragged time
When all that matters grew disorderly--
When artworks changed, expressive, narcissist,

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Another award for Howard Bahr

Howard Bahr has received the Mississippi Governor's Award for Literary Excellence! And that makes me glad--Howard is one of those writers who quietly works in solitude and semi-obscurity, devoted to the beauty and power of the muse.

He is also one of the most charming correspondents in the whole great multi-verse, and he still writes on paper! A letter in the mail from Howard makes the day brighter, more adventurous. I am lucky in my pen pals, but Howard is almost unique among them in his aversion to email--my stash of letters is a visible reminder of his artfulness and heart.

Howard may strike you as a writer cut from bolder cloth than most.  He was a gunner's mate during the Vietnam war, and he was a brakeman and yard clerk in the South and West.  That doesn't mean that he doesn't have graduate degrees; he does, and he teaches at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi. He is also the former curator of Rowan Oak, Faulkner's home.  Howard is the author of The Black Flower (Nautical & Aviation Press, 1997), The Year of Jubilo (Henry Holt, 2000), The Judas Field (Henry Holt, 2006), and Pelican Road (MacAdam/Cage, 2008).  He also has a children's book, Home for Christmas, also from Nautical and Aviation.

Howard suffered a setback when MacAdam/Cage toppled shortly after his last book was published, but the company has a bit of the phoenix somewhere in the bones, and is struggling up from its own ashes.  Pelican Road is still available for purchase, and so if you don't have a copy, please consider buying one from a legitimate source. (Readers need to remember that when you buy the book of a "mid-list" writer, you cast a vote in his or her favor that matters and is counted--and upon which the publication of the next book may depend. People often think that our "votes don't matter" in the political realm, but in publishing they matter a great deal.  In a publishing world where marketing departments have the most power, sufficient "votes" make a great difference.)

I'm glad to say that A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is dedicated to Howard, and it offers a quote from Pelican Road on the dedication page. It's good to give thanks for those who stand against the meretricious and the trendy and stand for the shapeliness and beauty of a made thing.  The Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts are only given to those who have made significant contributions to our culture through their work. Like Howard Bahr.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Hicks-Jenkins chooses Youmans on The Lydian Stones

The Lydian Stones went on a short hiatus for much of the holidays, and I am pleased to say that I have actually received letters of reproach! In apology, I post the next offering a day early. Clive Hicks-Jenkins was the first off the mark with a post, but I have delayed him because it seemed flaunting and immodest to have the first post be about one of my own poems.

Friday, January 06, 2012

One of those days

Detail,Yolanda Sharpe painting, Earlville Opera House Show.
I am reading A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage for the very last time--it's about to go to the printer. And I am having one of those awful days where absurd things happen, and everything goes wrong. The most recent thing is that I just broke the glass in a biggish watercolor by Louis D. Rubin, Jr.  Glass all over the dining room that I will have to pick up without accidentally slicing off my head, which is where I am supposed to keep my brain, though today I am not sure where it is. Honestly. I'm going out with a painter friend, Yolanda. Shall have to be careful not to be run over by an elephant escaped from a traveling circus or be stung by a knot of winter bees or eat a poisonous fish. Because it's one of those sorts of days.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Current Digby videos of my poems + news

In Extremis from The Throne of Psyche: film and music by Paul Digby

The Exile's Track from The Throne of Psyche: film and music by Paul Digby

The Nesting Doll from The Throne of Psyche:  film and music by Paul Digby

A Fire in Ice from The Throne of Psyche:  film and soundscape by Paul Digby

The Birthday Roses from the manuscript of fall 2010, The Book of the Red King:  film and music by Paul Digby

Next up:  some videos for The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, forthcoming) and The Book of the Red King (to be submitted this year.) We already have the three division pages for The Foliate Head, and Clive Hicks-Jenkins is working on the cover... And I am doing final scrubs on the 140+ poems of The Book of the Red King. I have cut some but imagine it will run about 145 poems in all.

The Lydian Stones will be back next week--I'm waiting until after Twelfth Night!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Collaborations with artists, 2012

A foliate head by Clive Hicks-Jenkins...

With painter Clive Hicks-Jenkins and designer Andrew Wakelin of Wales:

Clive is giving me three foliate heads for division pages and painting a head for the cover of The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press), and Andrew will be working with us on book design.

With painter Graham Ward of England:

I'm writing poems for Graham's opening in June--and having lots of fun doing so and getting first peek at his new paintings.

With the English-born transplant to Ohio, composer-and-much-more Paul Digby, and his wife, painter Lynn Digby:

We'll be doing what appears to be a fairly ambitious collaborative project, but right now it's barely getting started. More on that one later. This one is a sort of outgrowth of Paul's curation, music composition, and paintings joined with work by Lynn Digby and four other painters in "Into the Light" at Anderson Creative (November, 2011)--at least, doing such a large collaborative project seems to have fired the desire to do another.

Also with Paul Digby:
Paul is going to be matching more of my poems with music and film. Five are already up at youtube.  Rather saintly of him, I think!